An artist's rendering shows the new headquarters Vets First Choice plans to build in downtown Portland. Credit: Courtesy of Vets First Choice

An animal health care company received city approval Tuesday to build a new $20 million headquarters in downtown Portland.

Vets First Choice’s new campus near the eastern waterfront will bring 1,000 new jobs to southern Maine and include a “state-of-the-art pharmacy facility,” computer labs and office space, according to a spokesman.

Benjamin Shaw, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said he was “thrilled” to announce the expansion and that the “downtown location will be critical towards attracting world class talent.”

The Portland Planning Board’s vote to approve the 170,000-square-foot facility came as Vets First Choice merges with a New York company’s animal health division — a move it says will create one of Maine’s largest publicly traded companies. The merger with Henry Schein Animal Health is expected to close by 2019 and create a company with about $3.6 billion in sales.

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Vets First Choice runs an online portal where veterinarians and their clients can order pet prescriptions and other products. The new headquarters will have more than 1,500 employees and create hundreds of jobs in software development and pharmacy, spokesman Bill Durling said.

Vets First Choice will be partnering with University of New England College of Pharmacy for residency and training programs, Durling said.

Construction of the building at 12 Mountfort St. is scheduled to begin immediately. It is set to go up in a tight labor market and as Vets First Choice is dealing with a court challenge from another Maine veterinary company.

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In August, IDEXX Laboratories, a Westbrook-based veterinary diagnostic and testing company, sued Vets First Choice and two of its employees, who previously worked for IDEXX, for breach of contract and possible misuse of trade secrets.

Construction of the new headquarters is funded in part by a $9 million grant from Maine Technology Asset Fund 2.0 and is expected to be completed in April of 2020, Durling said.

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